For some people, speaking in public is the most terrifying thing they’ll need to do. There’s a legitimate medical term for this fear – glossophobia – and it can lead to symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, trembling, dizziness, sweating, nausea or vomiting, and just the general urge to get away.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld, in his usual observational style, once remarked that public speaking is more terrifying than death, thereby making the act of delivering a eulogy rather… challenging.
In this post, we’re going to cover just a few tips and suggestions around how we can approach this daunting task.
“I’m sorry for my English”
I’ve seen this in all kinds of situations; from academic conferences to job interviews, internal company presentations and around the streets in different countries.
Don’t apologize for this. Ever. Especially when you’re standing on the stage in front of a whole bunch of people. There are two reasons why I say this.
First, it’s a sort of “first impression” thing; once this is said, it’s often something that the audience will think about when they hear every little grammar or pronunciation mistake, and it only serves to reinforce those errors in their mind. It’s exactly the same as saying “Hi everyone… please don’t look at this big pimple on my forehead”; it’s very likely the only thing they’ll focus on.
Second, and most importantly, you have nothing to be ashamed of! Countries like the USA and UK are infamous for lacking in their ability to speak a second language. As a Canadian, everyone just assumes we’re all able to speak French fluently, but nothing could be further from the truth: Québec, je suis désolé!
Speaking a second language is like having a second personality or a second soul! Embrace it!
Once upon a time…
From the time we’re little kids, we enjoy stories. As adults it’s common to binge-watch a favorite TV series or a book that we just “can’t put down”. Storytelling in a presentation or speech has a very powerful role, and one that can help second language speakers significantly.
A great story has a few key components that can help you organize your flow and ensure your audience is entertained, engaged, and remembers your message:
- Honesty: Don’t make up stories. Embellish? Sure. But always draw from your own real experiences. An audience can smell a fake from a mile away.
- A Lesson: In my case, when I’m speaking to a room full of professionals I’m usually telling a business-related story. Either way, there’s always a moral, a nugget of wisdom I gained from my experience I can share with them.
- An Inspiring or Motivating Theme: Finish on a high note and a call to action; something that fills people with excitement and the drive to make a change.
Wait for it…
One of the most effective speakers in our generation is President Obama. He mastered the art of the pause in his speeches demonstrating that he’s confident enough to embrace silence, giving listeners the opportunity mentally and emotionally process what he’s saying more deeply.
This also gives time as a speaker to avoid using filler words and consider exactly what they want to say next. With practice, this is a skill that can easily be improved, but to do so, you’ll have to become aware of your speech patterns.
Using the voice recorder on your smartphone or your computer, try recording yourself the next time you give a public talk. Play it back to help you identify which filler words you use the most. Once you’re aware of the areas that need improvement, they will be easier to fix.
The show must go on
Have you ever heard of Barbara Streisand? She’s sort of famous. She also suffers from severe and downright debilitating stage fright.
Her stage fright became so overwhelming, she said, that: “I never performed for 27 years unless it was for a political event or fundraiser. The introduction of tele-prompters helped me and I did a lot of motivational work on myself.”
Practice. Relax. Breath. Focus. Join a local Toastmasters. And more than anything, allow yourself to take pride in the success of what you’ve done. It’s an accomplishment like anything else and one that’s possible to build upon as you seize the opportunities to do it more.
Throughout my career, I’ve always been nervous before different lessons with groups or top managers, presentations or workshops that I was leading, and even just this past week with a public webinar and an internal presentation for my colleagues.
I look at it like this – the fact that I’m nervous means that I care and I’m taking it seriously. The rush of adrenaline while I’m doing it and the relief that I feel when I’m done is something that I carry with me to the next one.
The language we’re using is obviously important, but the approach can be the same.